(Cross posted from our alumni mailing list)

Hey everyone!

2017 has been a busy year for CFAR so far, I’d like to tell you some of what we’ve been up to, and some of the plans we have for the rest of the year.


Instructor Pipeline - Last year Duncan Sabien took on the substantial project of creating a system to train a growing number of new, fully-qualified CFAR instructors over the long term. We began training new instructors in November 2016, and now we’ve trained 12 new instructors who are actively teaching at our mainline workshops. By end of workshop sprint (in early May) all of them will be fully qualified to teach at least a couple CFAR classes, some of them able to cover the substantial workload of more experienced instructors like Kenzi Amodei, while maintaining similar ratings. We’re looking forward to at some point in the summer having them run their own workshop (stay tuned for dates!).

Created and tested some brand new classes including Resolve (different from Resolve Cycles!), and Steph Zolayvar’s memorably named “Eat Dirt.” We’re likely to release some writing to the community about these classes and other concepts we’re currently developing, bandwidth permitting.

Community Talk Nights- Eli Tyre has spearheaded these events, with the latest rationality talks, delivered by CFAR staff, mentors, instructors, and alumni. We’ve run two talk nights so far, and we plan to run a bunch more. One of the developments to come out of this is a series of open questions in group rationality that will be one of our research threads for the upcoming seasons.

Talk Iteration Nights - We’ve also run two iteration nights in conjunction with the community talk nights so that people had a chance to practice delivering content in a critically constructive environment.

Lots of Workshops – in the last three months we’ve run eight workshops, which were a mix of mainline workshops and specialized workshops:

  1. Three Mainline Workshops. We’re in the middle of an experiment stress testing our ability to run lots of workshops in a row without breaking. We’ve run three of the five, with the remaining two coming on April 19th and May 3rd. We were originally planning a sixth, but we cancelled it because it turns out that it’s really hard to fill almost 200 seats in a three month period, where historically we’ve only filled about 170 seats in an entire year. The good news is that our workshop operations team could have easily handled the sixth if our outreach (me, basically) had been able to fill it.
  2. AI Modeling Workshop. Anna put this together with Steph Zolayvar’s help. A weekend of deep engagement, model sharing and double cruxing about AI safety and timelines.
  3. Ops Workshop. Ops is a skill in short supply, so Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg led a small workshop teaching operations skills–robust event planning, attention to detail, grace under fire, realtime tactical adjustment, and more. Miranda had support from Oliver Habryka and Brent Dill to pull it off.
  4. Instructor Training Workshops. Duncan led two training workshops this year for our instructor candidates, in preparation for their roles in the ongoing workshop sprint.
  5. Winter SPARC. CFAR funded a winter SPARC program organized by Aaron Lin (SPARC Junior Counselor and alum) and Jack Gurev (SPARC alum), with support from Qiaochu Yuan (SPARC instructor) and Eugene Chen (SPARC Junior Counselor and alum).

New Hires

We’ve expanded our team!

Gail Hernandez. Gail is an alum supporting us part time with operations, primarily in accounting and customer service. Gail provides some much needed bandwidth so we can keep our books entirely up to date on a monthly basis, our office in order, and our customer service timely and helpful.

Marcello Herreshoff. Marcello has been involved in the rationality community for many years, and recently started as a part time rationality researcher.

Elizabeth Garrett. Elizabeth starts today, April 10th as CFAR’s long-awaited Community Manager. I’ll let her speak for herself in the coming weeks, but expect more events, and more active community engagement.

What We’re Planning

EA Impact Metrics - Dan Keys revamped the measures we use to determine what impact we’re having on our participants and the community. In particular we designed a new metric we’re calling “EA Impact” which is similar to 80k’s “Plan Changes” metric, except it’s broader because we’re tracking not only if people changed what they were doing, but if people are now more effective at what they are doing. Over the next couple months Dan and Lauren Lee will be collecting and analyzing those data. The plan is to use what we collect as feedback for how CFAR might be run better, and to do a full write up of what the measure is, how we collected the data, and what the results were.

Community Dispute Resolution - We’re in relatively early stages here, but Lauren Lee has taken point on planning a semi-independent board to help resolve disputes that affect the community. In its current conception it’ll involve one CFAR staff member and two members of the community in good standing. They will act as neutral parties to collect information, investigate disputes, and take appropriate actions based on issue reports from the community. During this quarter we expect to have an open comment period for the fully formed plan that we will announce when its ready.

A/B Testing between content and workshop - Duncan recently started the first round of testing with 24 non-alumni (and counting) who are just reading our handbook, then filling out the same surveys that workshop participants do. We want to check our hypothesis that the workshop experience is substantially more powerful than the content on its own. We’ll let you know what we find.

Board of Directors - Our goal for this quarter is to expand the board of directors to either five or seven people (from the current three). We’d like a board that’s broadly representative of the rationality and xrisk communities, and will provide expanded support, guidance, and oversight for CFAR’s mission.

Permanent Venue - One of the major financial and operational bottlenecks we face in running a large number of workshop is renting venues. Kenzi did a tremendous amount of work last year getting us closer to the reality of a permanent venue, and now that the bandwidth has opened, we’re picking up where she left off to complete the process. Real estate transactions of this size and complexity take a surprising (or not surprising) amount of time, but in my most optimistic dreams we’ll have concrete traction during this second quarter and the venue acquired by the end of the third quarter. Planning fallacy, etc, etc. :)

New Workshops - There will be more workshops this year, some mainline and some specialized. We’ll announce the details later.

Alumni Reunion - Our annual alumni reunion is coming up on August 18-20! Up to 200 of us will be converging on Westminster Woods, the same woodland retreat center as last year. Click here to find out more, and buy tickets.

Strategic Outreach - We are keen to fill our one remaining role, Strategic Outreach. The outreach person will ask and answer: who do we most want at our workshops and in our community, given the landscape of xrisk and rationality as a practice? How do we get those people here? If that sounds interesting to you or you think you might know someone who is a good fit, please send them our way.

All the best,